Gustavo Martinez’ BFA Exhibition at San Jose State
By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

In the tradition of ceramic sculpture at San Jose State, Gustavo Martinez presents a challenging installation as his BFA thesis exhibition. His show in Herbert Sanders Gallery, is autobiographical at the same time that it references cultures of Meso-America.

Gustavo Martinez, right, with Father in Herbert Sanders Gallery

Last Winter, Martinez, born in Guadalajara, traveled extensively, through Mexico, and on to Central America. He experienced the history and geography of his anthropology studies first hand. He seems to have been further energized to talk about the Mexican American experience in the materials and forms of the ancient cultures.

The train of history snakes into the present, artifacts of life enter the gallery.

Martinez’ work with clay and use of the clay pot as a metaphor for fragments of earlier civilizations is played against the gallery walls and his seated scribe. A soft-focus charcoal drawing that depicts deep space and landscape wraps around the gallery and establishes a boundary between past and present, here and there. There were the cultures that lived with these artforms (potsherds) as a daily event, now seen as artifacts. Here, arriving on three tracks from different sites, like unbroken trains of history, entering stealthily and snake-like, the line of ceramic vessels marches into the white box gallery. Martinez leaves us a bit disoriented, somewhere between art and history.

Another arrival from the Southwest.

The seated scribe, is partly an historical figure and partly an alien from outer space. He is complete in tribal ceremonial dress (or armor?), and ready to record events, but he finds himself an unprepared victim of time-travel as well. He stares, perplexed, at the screen of his Pomegranate computer. On his chest is emblazoned “No intiendo.” (I don’t understand.) Martinez is admittedly struggling to learn Adobe programs at this point in his own history.

Gustavo Martinez’ Scribe

A little over a year ago, I was stunned by the energy and physically vivid depiction of the hands, face and posture of Martinez’ curious, bobble-head mariachi figures. They have a tragicomic quality that is endearing and hard to forget. Now, his conceptual development and command of the entire gallery space surpass that earlier work in several respects. He manages to link contemporary social implications to a long and broad historical overview in work that is stylistically totally original and compelling.

Gustavo Martinez’ Bobble Headed Mariachis, 2007

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